Workplace harassment is a serious problem that can create a hostile work environment and negatively impact the well-being of employees. The good news is in Los Angeles and throughout California, employees are protected by some of the most comprehensive anti-harassment laws in the country.
If you are experiencing workplace harassment, you must know your rights. You don’t have to tolerate any form of harassment, but you do have to take action if you want it to stop. What follows is an overview of workplace harassment, what it is and what to do if you’re experiencing it.
The employment law attorneys at The Dominguez Firm have been successfully representing employees suffering harassment on the job for over 35 years. If you’re being harassed at work, call us for a free consultation at (800) 818-1818 today.
What Constitutes Workplace Harassment in California?
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) forbids workplace harassment, which is defined as unwelcome conduct that is based on an individual’s protected class including, but not limited to:
- National origin
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
Harassment can be sexual or non-sexual. Also, workplace harassment can impact anyone, not just minorities or women. It can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical contact, threats, intimidation, ridicule, and offensive gestures or images.
The conduct must be severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile or abusive work environment or to interfere with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties. The victim must subjectively perceive the conduct as abusive or hostile, and a reasonable person in the victim’s position would feel similarly.
What is a Hostile Work Environment?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines a hostile work environment as workplace harassment that is severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile work environment. The harassment must be based on a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information.
To determine if a workplace is hostile in legal terms, courts typically consider four factors:
- The frequency of the harassing conduct – This refers to how often the harassment occurs. A single isolated incident is usually not enough to create a hostile work environment.
- The severity of the conduct – Behavior that is physically threatening or humiliating is more likely to create a hostile work environment than behavior that is merely annoying or offensive.
- Whether the conduct is physically threatening or humiliating – Harassing conduct that is physical and humiliating, such as repeated unwanted touching.
- Whether the conduct unreasonably interferes with the employee’s work performance – The harassment makes it difficult for the employee to do their job, such as by causing them emotional distress or distracting them from their work.
All four factors must be assessed together to determine if a workplace is hostile in legal terms. Note that even employees who are not directly targeted by the harassment can be impacted by a hostile work environment. An example would be a co-worker who constantly makes racist jokes in full earshot of other employees in their vicinity.
What are the Most Common Forms of Workplace Harassment?
The most common forms of workplace harassment are verbal and nonverbal conduct based on an individual’s protected status. Verbal harassment can include insults, derogatory comments, slurs, and threats. Nonverbal harassment can include unwanted physical contact, gestures, and displays of offensive images or symbols.
Sexual harassment is another prevalent form of workplace harassment. It includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This type of harassment can create a hostile work environment and interfere with an employee’s ability to perform their job duties.
Bullying is also considered workplace harassment. Examples include:
- Verbal abuse
- Social exclusion
- Spreading rumors
- Sabotaging a person’s work
Like other forms of harassment, bullying can lead to a hostile work environment, hurt an employee’s well-being, and job performance.
Employers in Los Angeles are required to have clear policies and procedures in place to prevent and address all forms of workplace harassment. Employees who experience harassment should report it to their employer or a designated authority, such as the human resources department.
What Should I Do if I’m Being Harassed at Work?
If you’re experiencing harassment at work, don’t suffer in silence. Remember, you have the right to work in a safe and respectful environment. Take action if co-workers and/or supervisors are harassing you.
First, document the harassment by keeping a record of what was said or done, who was present, and when it occurred. If there is written evidence of the harassment, such as explicit or insulting emails or text messages, make sure to save them. This information will be valuable when you report the harassment to your employer.
Once you have evidence of the harassment, report it to your employer’s HR department or a supervisor. In California, employers must have a written policy outlining the procedure for reporting harassment and it must include the name of the person you should report the harassment to. They have a legal obligation to investigate your complaint and take appropriate action. Employers are responsible for preventing and correcting harassment in the workplace.
If your employer fails to address the harassment or retaliates against you for reporting it, then contact an employment law attorney. They can help you take the correct administrative steps with the California Civil Rights Department (CRD) and other agencies if needed. Your employment law attorney will also help you understand your legal rights and options, handle your harassment claim and work to obtain the maximum compensation for you.
Do Harassment Lawsuits Against Government Employers Differ From Those Against Private Employers?
Yes, there are some key differences when filing a work harassment lawsuit against a government employer versus a private employer in Los Angeles. If you work for a government agency, you’ll likely be required to file additional documentation, including a complaint with the agency’s internal Equal Employment Opportunity office before you can file a lawsuit.
Another key difference is the statute of limitations. It can be as short as 45 days from the date of the last incident to 300 days, depending on the circumstances. Regardless of the time limit, your best option is to speak with an experienced workplace harassment attorney to see what your next step should be.
Finally, the damages available in a lawsuit against a government employer can differ. For example, there may be a cap on the amount of compensatory and punitive damages you can recover compared to someone filing a claim against a private employer.
Can I Sue For Workplace Harassment if it Happened During a Job Interview?
Yes, you may be able to sue for workplace harassment if it occurred during a job interview. Even though you were not yet an employee, California law protects job applicants from harassment and discrimination during the hiring process.
The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), also makes it illegal for potential employers to harass or discriminate against a job applicant, not just an employee. Examples include questions about:
- Their age
- Criminal record
- Marital status
- Questions about children, pregnancy or child care
- Past salaries
- Religious holidays they observe
- Any health-related issues
I Was Fired for Reporting Workplace Harassment. Can The Dominguez Firm Help Me?
If you were fired for reporting workplace harassment in California, it is considered a form of employer retaliation. You have legal options available to you. California law prohibits retaliation against employees who report harassment or other violations of employment laws.
Your first step should be to consult with an experienced California employment law attorney. They can review the details of your case and determine if you have a valid claim for wrongful termination and retaliation.
If you have a valid claim, your attorney may be able to help you recover damages for lost wages, emotional distress, and other losses resulting from your termination. Your attorney will file a lawsuit against your employer on your behalf.
Act quickly if you were retaliated against for reporting workplace harassment. There are deadlines for filing a claim, and failing to act promptly can result in the loss of your legal rights. Also, defense attorneys may question your recollection of the harassment and that of any eyewitnesses if you wait.
Call the Workplace Harassment Attorneys at The Dominguez Firm Today
If you’re being harassed on the job in Los Angeles, you can do something about it. You don’t have to dread going to work or have it impact you emotionally and physically. And if your human resources department won’t remedy the situation, it’s time to take legal action against them.
The sooner you call the employment law attorneys at The Dominguez Firm, the better. Our award-winning team will work to get you the compensation you deserve for having your workplace rights violated. Take the next step and call us for a free and completely confidential consultation at (800) 818-1818 today.